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Angels' lineup an Opening Day preview?

Angels' lineup an Opening Day preview?

TEMPE, Ariz. -- For the first time all spring, Angels manager Mike Scioscia scripted for a Cactus League game against the Royals what likely will be his Opening Day lineup.

The lone exception was Joel Pineiro on the mound, an assignment likely to fall to Jered Weaver, the team's ace last season.

Sciosica refers to lineup groupings in threes. The top third of the Angels' order: shortstop Erick Aybar, right fielder Bobby Abreu, center fielder Torii Hunter; the middle third: designated hitter Hideki Matsui, first baseman Kendry Morales, left fielder Juan Rivera; and the bottom third: second baseman Howard Kendrick, catcher Mike Napoli, third baseman Brandon Wood.

From Abreu down, it is a lineup that easily could generate at least 15 homers, and as many as 35, in all eight spots.

With Chone Figgins in Seattle, the Angels don't figure to steal as many bases as in recent seasons. But they should increase their power numbers -- especially if Wood carries his spring approach and production into the regular season.

"Brandon's got the ability to really drive the ball to right-center," Scioscia said. "He did that [Tuesday against the Padres, with an RBI triple]. He's been hitting to right field all spring. That's part of his game he feels good about.

"Every day he's feeling more comfortable. He's taking his walks, but still feels good about driving the ball. He'll be fine."

That bottom third -- Kendrick, Napoli (or Jeff Mathis) and Wood -- figures to be as dangerous as any in the game.

Kendrick could force an alteration along the way. A start resembling his finish to 2009 -- when he batted .351 (second in the American League) after July 4 -- could elevate the second baseman to as high as No. 2 in the order at some point.

"This is a lineup you obviously will see, whether it's Opening Day or not," Scioscia, always wary of tipping his hand, said. "You'll probably see it quite often. We've got guys battling for positions behind the plate [Napoli and Mathis] and at third base [Wood and Maicer Izturis].

"This is a lineup we're excited about."

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Scioscia never has been reluctant to move parts around to meet the needs of the day and create more at-bats for his hottest hitters.

"One through maybe six or seven, yeah," Scioscia said when asked if he felt this lineup could hold up. "Hopefully, we'll get an idea of our continuity. It's a good group, a deep group.

"There are a lot of things to look at [with the lineup]. At some point during the season we'll have a better idea what this lineup is and how we have to juggle it. If we don't juggle it, it's a very deep lineup."

The Angels will continue to go first-to-third with aggression, and while Figgins' speed obviously can't be replaced, Wood is not slow. He showed he can motor on his triple Tuesday.

Aybar's ability to get on base and set things in motion is one obvious key to the lineup's ability to pressure the opposition.

Abreu, one of the game's most patient and disciplined hitters, should flourish in the No. 2 hole, but he has spent most of his career hitting third. The record plainly shows the Angels were significantly better last season when he was in the No. 3 spot.

There are mitigating factors, naturally, such as how the club was functioning when Abreu was batting second. But the numbers from '09 are hard to argue. The team was 26-24 when Abreu batted second, 60-35 when he hit third.

Izturis led the team in appearances in the No. 2 spot. The club was 34-21 when he was hitting between Figgins and Abreu.

But Wood brings a brand of thunder that could alter the makeup of the offense, returning it to something resembling the 2002 World Series champions.

Wood's .385 on-base percentage (six walks, eight strikeouts in 44 at-bats) was the most impressive aspect of his Cactus League resume coming into Wednesday's game.

"I feel comfortable, confident," he said. "I finally feel like I'm just out there playing baseball. When I'm hitting the ball this way, to all fields, I feel like I'm staying on the ball with good coverage of the plate.

"It's been step-by-step this spring. I feel like my pitch recognition is good. I can count on one hand the number of pitches I wish I'd laid off of, and that's encouraging."

Hunter, whose .366 on-base percentage last season was 40 points higher than his previous career average -- thanks in part to Abreu's influence -- is observing a new and improved Wood.

"Brandon is much more relaxed this spring," Hunter said. "Of course, he's happy because he's going to get the opportunity he's been longing for. I definitely feel he's ready.

"The past two years, he was asking me what he should do to make it. It's almost like he was in a panic, knowing he had to do something to make an impression. This year, it's more like, `What do I need to do to prepare myself?' He has an idea, and he's preparing himself for the season.

"He's been working on his timing, his discipline. He feels comfortable and is having good at-bats. He's not trying to do too much. If he hits 20-plus [homers] with 70-plus [RBIs], he's helping us. He's solid defensively, making all the plays. I like him."

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

{"content":["spring_training" ] }
{"content":["spring_training" ] }